Thursday, 27 August 2009

Pod ponderings

Like I said, if it all goes wrong this year, there's always next season. I was mentally reviewing my garden and realised that it would make sense to make a list of what's worked and what I want to improve, so I thought I'd make a start here with my legumes...

Peas/Mangetout etc
Peas - everyone says what a waste of space these are compared to mangetout or sugar snaps, but obviously everyone doesn't have small children. Once you've sat on the sofa with your smalls ardently picking the peas out of the pod and gobbling them greedily raw, you won't think that peas are a waste of space - they're a wonderful introduction to the joys of grow your own for sprogs and the gourmet indulgences of fresh veg.
On the constructive side, I have learnt that it would be a good idea to label them better. The labels got lost in the plants and, as the row was mixed, I was unsure at what stage to harvest (pod, pea or both). I went to a school recently and their veg patch had long wooden labels written on with indelible marker - not a bad idea at all. The labels looked rather nice actually and who says that you have to have some piddly little white plastic thing that you can barely see?
The other thing is support. I used to use some rather nice gold twig trellis (jumble sale Christmas decoration), but I've rather run out of that and my peas sticks this year were frankly useless. I saw a great solution at an organic smallholding I stayed on in the summer. They had several long rows of pealikes, all with hefty five foot wooden stakes supporting a line of wire at the top, to which was attached/hung pea netting. I already have pea netting in the greenhouse; all I need to do is procure some stakes. I actually had to ask if these were permanent pea beds, the stakes looked so longstanding, but apparently they move ok, so next year I will do the same.
My final pea improvement point is to have more. Possibly lots more. Not a lot more peas as such, I admit. I had about 6 foot and that was probably enough to enjoy a few sofa sessions shelling and hoovering with the boys, although they might appreciate more. But I would like more mange toute and possibly sugar snaps. My veg patches are currently 5 m long and one length of this, even a wide one, really wasn't enough. I could have done with at least two 5m long beds, especially as much of my sole bed was also occupied by broad beans. It would be good to be able to freeze some peas next year. Frozen peas are great, but you don't get frozen organic mange toute, to my knowledge, let alone purple ones.
That reminds me, my really final point is to note that I could do with more purple peas. I grew these first years ago from the HDRA and my main recollection was the beautiful flowers and purple pods, but it has to be said that they are also an awful lot easier to pick, simply because they are so much easier to see.

Broad Beans
This was a surprise success for me this year. I confess that I was too late to sow my own, so I cheated and bought some cheap plants. It worked out really well. I can't quite remember now (the perils of not blogging before) but I think I cloched them (a first for me). It was only plastic hoops with thin plastic over, but it did seem to provide some protection.
I had loads of beans - more than I knew what to do with. I realised rather belatedly that the small ones (>1 cm) were fantastic and the large ones were soup fodder (well, I suspect that they would make good soup dried; in reality I tended to liquidise them with things to make broad bean, um mush). I planted two rows of broad beans, either side of the peas. I think next year I would be tempted to go for the same amount but stake it as above, use the tender young beans fresh and see what I feel about any dried broad beans I get this year. I think the plants got chocolate spot ( I think that's a bean disease, not the consequences of too much confectionery) this year, but it was very much towards the end of their life. Next year I will know to try drying the beans on the vine too.

Borlotti beans
A first for me this year too. I did manage to grow these from seed, but I suspect I either sowed too early (indoors) or planted out too late because the plants were lanky and intertwined by the time I got them in the ground, at which point, despite the fleece tent around their teepee, they promptly sulked, looking most unhappy for a few weeks. In fairness to the plants, they do seem to have recovered and their lustrous green and red spotted pods are now decorating my legume bed. Unfortunately, there aren't an awful lot of them. I think this mostly reflects the fact that I simply didn't grow enough plants. I've probably got about half a dozen. I've eaten some fresh (fairly innocuous and lose the fabulous colouring even when steamed), I'd really like to dry the rest on the vine and see a) what they taste like in winter soups and b) whether I can actually be arsed to put them in winter soups ;-). If so, then growing a full row, supported like the peas and saving dried beans, would seem to be a good idea for next year.

French Beans
These are on the same wigwam as above, and have suffered similar problems - they sulked and there aren't enough of them. I seem to have only purple beans growing and they are absolutely beautiful. It's not just the pods, but also the leaves, which are gloriously purple tinged. I really should try growing yellow and purple together, on a proper tall staked row.

Runner Beans
I wonder if I'm being overly harsh on myself about the late planting of the french and borlotti beans. I'm sure that I planted the runners even later and the plants were even longer, but they seem to have bounced back really well. I had some tricolour seeds - ie with pink, red and white flowers. I wasn't that bothered about the flower colour, tbh, but I have to say that it's most attractive. I've only just started harvesting them, so time will tell, but I suspect that one wigwam, unless I'm going to get into freezing a lot of them, will actually be enough. It does occur to me that it's so pretty that it would be a nice idea to use it as a feature in any part of the garden. I did actually design the borlotti/french bean wig wam so that the kids could go inside (partly to pick the beans but mostly for fun). I'm not sure whether this was a good idea, simply because I haven't pointed it out to them (I had visions of squashed beans), but it is still a thought for next year.

Ah, like I said, thoughts for next year - what a nice thought a thought for next year is.....

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